Eugene O’ Neill’s play ”The Hairy Ape”
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The distinction between social classes is a primary source of conflict in Eugene O’ Neill’s play, The Hairy Ape. This differentiation is further exacerbated by alienation, which is the result of American industrialization.
Yank is the lead character of the play. He is a fireman, one among the many responsible for placing coal in the ship’s engine (Lusher, 2006). Among the firemen, Yank is king; he is the recognized leader. However, his encounter with Mildred, the daughter of a steel company, changed everything. She refers to him as a beast, and this marks the start of his journey of alienation. In the end, he accepts his label as ape, and dies in an animal cage.
To begin with, the setting itself reflects the delineation between the upper class and the working class. The firemen are located underneath the ship; their location is in the very bottom of the structure. Mildred and her peers, on the other hand, enjoys the open deck, way above the place of the firemen (Lusher, 2006). From the onset, this distinction shows the disparity of the two classes.
Moreover, the industrialization of America furthers the devastating plight of the working class. The industrial era was an epoch of machines, and workers were reduced to being manual laborers (Lusher, 2006). This is where the title comes from: the play shows how industrialization alienates man, and reverts him to an ape-like state, where one cannot think for himself as a result of being confined in a relentless cycle of work.
Therefore, the play is a testament of how the social divide affects people, and how the situation worsens against the backdrop of industrialization.
Lusher, L. (2006). Sparknote on The Hairy Ape. Retrieved January 2, 2008, from http://www.sparknotes.com/drama/hairyape/